TAMPA — Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner isn't letting a porn scandal keep him from seeking re-election.
Turner, 60, a Republican, filed his qualifying paperwork Thursday to run for a fifth term, saying in a written response to questions that he has never considered doing otherwise.
"I am seeking another term because I know that I can continue to provide the skills, knowledge, leadership and vision to this office that has made it the finest county property appraiser's office in the state," he wrote. "My work here is not done and I am looking forward to providing more innovation and improvement in the next four years."
In a lengthy news release Thursday, Turner touted his experience in banking and training in appraisals before he took office 16 years ago, and his work in the office since as distinguishing him from at least three challengers. He said he has sharply reduced staff and the agency is spending less money than it did when he was first elected.
"Without those specific qualifications, any candidate is just someone looking for a job," he said in the release.
Turner has been embroiled in controversy for the past two weeks since he admitted to the Tampa Bay Times that he sent multiple pornographic emails to his former human resources director for more than a year. He has acknowledged dating that employee, Carolyn Filippone, in a 2001 time frame while both were single.
The appraiser fired Filippone as the Times was preparing a story about a discrimination complaint she filed against Turner that featured dozens of samples of pornographic emails. The complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was dismissed in April.
Turner has acknowledged making personal mistakes. But he said the emails were part of a mutual and consensual exchange between he and Filippone and that they were sent during nonwork hours with personal equipment.
He has not returned phone calls for comment since shortly after the first articles appeared. In his written response to questions, Turner emphasized the performance of his office.
"While I am regretful about some missteps made in my personal life many years ago, none of those have affected this office or my performance as Hillsborough County Property Appraiser," he wrote.
Until the revelations, Turner appeared poised to coast to re-election to the position, which pays $154,523 a year. He was facing two relatively unknown challengers in James DeMio and Rob Townsend, both running without party affiliation. (Townsend has not yet qualified.)
But the recent news stories prompted two additional challengers with political experience: Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms, a former county commissioner; and Bob Henriquez, a Democratic former state representative from Tampa.
Both said it will be up to voters to decide how much emphasis they want to place on Turner's email or dating choice. Both said they expect them to be a factor, and Storms said they should be.
"To me, it shows a complete and utter disrespect for women," she said, "and a flagrant disrespect for the taxpayers."
By dating an employee, Storms said Turner sent a terrible message to other employees. And she said she is aware of residents who have butted heads with Turner over assessments only to have their concerns ignored.
Henriquez said he is not inclined to judge Turner's personal decisions. "The judges will be the voters," he said.
But Henriquez said he recalls the arguments that were made when Turner first ran for office. He was challenging an incumbent who had been videotaped in bars during work hours and was facing allegations of cronyism.
"I'm sure Rob Turner made a ton of arguments that will be similar to the ones you might hear in this race," he said.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.